The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo trans. Louise Heal Kawai

In the compound of the Ichiyangi family lies an annex house. And inside that house lies a terrible sight. Kenzo Ichiyangi, the eldest son, and Katsuko Kubo, his new bride, lie dead, hacked to death with a katana, a sword that is found some distance away, stuck into the ground. And it is clear from the snow around the house that the killer never left the house…

Faced with such an impossible crime, Ginzo Kubo, the uncle of the bride, summons Kosuke Kindaichi, the young, eccentric private investigator. But when there is a second katana attack, and again no trace of the murderer, can he possibly get to the bottom of the mystery?

Well, yes, but it’ll take him one third of the book to explain how…

I think that summarises the problem that I have had with Japanese crime fiction to date, but I’ll come back to that in a bit. First of all, let me praise the strengths of the book.

First of all, credit to the translator, Louise Heal Kawai. Louise has translated a number of Japanese novels into English, most notably for fans of the mystery genre, Soji Shimada’s Murder In The Crooked House, and has done an excellent job here. She has managed to produce an exceptionally readable text without compromising the feel that you are reading a Japanese novel. If you know what I mean. Basically, the translation hasn’t lost any of the original spirit of the book.

It’s a great problem and very well put together. The investigation moves quickly, and the various characters, while possessing some, shall we say, extreme characteristics, are an interesting distinctive bunch. It’s the sort of tale where every step from the sleuth provides a piece of evidence that makes things clearer to the sleuth while confusing the waters for the reader.

And then we get to the solution which… is complicated. Not to follow, the central idea is simple enough, despite the fact that it almost certainly wouldn’t work. But our hero is determined to explain every step of the plan in detail, and then, following another reveal, go over everything else in a new light. The feeling that I came away with is that the first version of the solution is the one the author initially thought up, only then realising the number of problems with it, and then added the second, real solution. There is still some beauty in the solution and it has some clever ideas, but it’s unnecessarily over-complex for my liking.

Still, there is a lot to like here and some clever ideas on display. There are a couple of other niggles – the references to certain Western Golden Age novels seemed somewhat out of place and unnecessary, and the need to apparently redact certain names and placenames (the village of O – ) for example just confused me. But this is definitely worth your time as an introduction to Kindaichi, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the reprint of an earlier translation of the second book, The Inugami Curse, early next year, also from Pushkin Press.

One comment

  1. Read this last week as there is a cut-price deal on three ebooks from the publisher of which this is one. I enjoyed it but have the same reservations as you. A bit too complicated perhaps. However I enjoyed it enough the get ‘Murder in the Crooked House’ by Soji Shimada also translated by Louise Heal Kawai. That was brilliant. The practical technique of the murders was totally bonkers and the culprit guessable but what an interesting ride. Some good characters, sly humour and a rather moving postscript regarding the motive. Great translation too

    Liked by 1 person

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